Colleges around the country and in the Tampa Bay area are at an important educational and moral turning point. With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)/Obamacare going into full effect next year, they have had to come to terms with one of its many clauses: Employers soon will soon be required to offer health insurance to all full-time (30-plus hours per week) employees.
Locally, about 80 percent of St. Petersburg College's faculty is part-time, or adjunct. These professors, with BAs, MAs, and even Ph.Ds, carry the majority of the responsibility for teaching SPC students. The results are obvious: SPC has earned awards and high rankings in Florida and nationwide.
Yet, an adjunct professor with a master's degree, teaching full-time, can expect to make just roughly $21,000 a year. An equal full-time faculty? $40,000-plus. This situation is repeated across the country, with many adjuncts working full-time hours (sometimes across multiple campuses and multiple colleges) for part-time pay and no benefits.
After the changes with Obamacare, part-time adjuncts who work full-time hours must be offered health insurance. Offering affordable health insurance to this group of faculty would not only be an excellent decision for the longevity of the staff, it is the best decision for students as well. Sadly, many administrations have chosen a different route - creating mechanisms to measure faculty's weekly work hours (in and out of class). The reasoning cited is that this will "allow" administrations to give adjuncts the maximum number of courses available under Obamacare. In reality, it is a tool to purposefully keep adjuncts' weekly hours under the 30-hour-per-week benchmark. By doing so, a college absolves itself from the requirement to offer its adjunct professors health insurance, undermining the goal of the reform. This is a poor decision for any college and its faculty and students.
The obvious rebuttal is that expanding coverage to some or most of adjunct faculty would incur a huge financial cost. Of course, it would. Does that make it the wrong thing to do? Of course not. Local colleges have the opportunity to set the bar for adjuncts statewide. Adjuncts are becoming the backbone of higher education at community colleges and universities alike. Offering those benefits, solidifying their full-time commitment with full-time benefits, will guarantee the future success of faculty and students. If colleges continue down the path of treating adjuncts as second-class faculty, they can only expect second-class teaching as a result.